Category Archives: Creative

Birmingham woman pours grief into fiction novel and speaks up about knife attacks after losing brother

After keeping it a secret from her family, the sister of a stabbed Birmingham man today launched debut novel, The Life He Chose, raising awareness of the reality of knife crime.

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Candace Bertram, 27, lost her brother, father-to-be Leon Francis in 2007 when he was murdered by a friend, within a year of him being released from prison where he served over five years.

The mum-of-one with a daughter, began writing five years later to cope with her grief and dispel the myths around knife violence.

She said: “We’re fed that it’s just gangsters who get stabbed but anyone could be victim of senseless attacks, that aren’t just with knives. No matter how you’re raised or who you’re around, it’s about making the right decisions.

Source: The Birmingham Mail

Source: The Birmingham Mail

“Leon dying so unexpectedly and in a way that was happening to so many males at that time inspired me to spread a message, but this book isn’t inspired by his life or to glorify it because there’s so much that I didn’t know.

“He was a family man and someone that we looked up to.”

An ‘everyday story’ aimed at 16-30-year-olds, the crime drama novel centres on the relationship between Jay and girlfriend Lauryn, who is blissfully unaware of his dangerous street life.

The plot explores subjects like love, infidelity, crime and loyalty, but also tackles more sensitive and ‘complex’ issues such as sex, siblings with different fathers and biracial identity.

She said: “Jay lives his life how he wants to while Lauryn stays at home and reaps the benefits with expensive everything, but she’s happy to live that life because she has no self-worth.

“He doesn’t respect her and Lauryn has distanced herself from her family, she has just one friend, so she doesn’t know where to turn.

”When she does try to make a change in her life, it ends in tragedy.”

Candace shielded her parents from the book because they had been ‘dragged to Mars and back with grief and upset’ over their son’s death.

Now that they’ve read it, they’re said to be ‘really happy and proud’.

She said: “It’s nearly eight years now and it’s not getting any easier because it’s something we’ll never accept, but my anger towards his death got left at the door a long time ago.

“I think if Leon could come back and give me a message he’d be pleased that something positive came out of it and probably ask why I didn’t put him in it for his five minutes of fame.”

Candace wants the self-published book to feature as a set text on the English curriculum and aspires to deliver workshops in schools and colleges nationwide.

She said: “I’m hoping that in the future it will be adapted into a play or film because I’m a visual learner, so the next step would be turning it into something people can watch.

Already talking of a sequel, Candace is also planning a UK tour in the new year, with the next stop being London, where the novel is set.

The Life He Chose is available to buy here.

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Abigail Jackson: Healing women’s hearts one literary anthology at a time

In searching for a way to combine her joint passion for literature and women’s rights, 24-year-old teaching assistant and aspiring novelist, Abigail Jackson, from Lewisham South-East London, founded the Red Ink Project a not-for-profit anthology which documents the female experience.

Abigail Jackson Founder of the Red Ink ProjectLaunched in 2012 during Abi’s second year at Greenwich University where she’s now a PHD candidate examining emotion and identity in post-colonial Caribbean literature she ’wanted to give women a chance to express themselves under the banner of human rights’.

On a bus journey home, Abi decided to start the project once and for all.

A themed anthology published every two years, with the first year’s proceeds going to charity, the project champions storytelling as a way to ‘break the cycle of silence’, while its name represents that although ‘we all have the same blood, we’re treated differently’.

She said: “Sometimes it’s easy for us to believe that our story is the only one and by putting yours out there, you’ll never know how you’re affecting somebody else who’s reading it.

“One thing that’s important about sharing stories is so that people know they’re not alone and although not everybody enjoys reading non-fiction, I think biographies are so popular because we want to know about people’s lives and to see if there’s anything similar in our own.”

Moved to tears by some of the first submissions under the theme, Rites of Passage; Rights of Womanhood, which included stories of sexual abuse, ‘coming out’ and loss Abi was particularly moved by one woman’s grief, which forced her to relive a painful moment in her own life.

She said: “This lady wrote a letter to her dad who had passed away around the same time as my grandma, so it brought up a lot of the emotions that I felt and things that I could’ve said that I wasn’t able to.”

Abigail’s grandmother died suddenly on the same morning she and her family had planned to visit.

“To arrive and be told that she’d passed an hour ago was very upsetting,” she said.

She added: “There was also another lady who’d gone through a very difficult childhood experience where she’d been sexually abused and at the end of her story she wrote a poem to express another aspect of how she felt. It was an unusual way of doing it but her story ended positively, she’s now happily married.

“I loved that all Rites of Passage; Rights of Womanhood anthology the stories didn’t stop at the suffering or struggle, at the end they overcame their issues and that’s very important too.”

Surprised by the success of the first anthology that began as a WordPress blog, Abi initially struggled finding women to submit.

Men showed more of an interest in the page, something she found ‘really strange but encouraging’, and it wasn’t until she posted an advert online through the Guardian that ‘things started getting serious’, which prompted a relaunch and brand new website.

Fast-forward post its release, Abi was daunted at having to reinvigorate people’s interest in the project for its second edition and explained how a chance meeting with Laura Bates, founder of The Everyday Sexism Project, helped renew her confidence.

She said: “At the secondary school I used to work at as a library assistant, the head of the library was such an activist. His issue was sexism in school and so he managed to get Laura in for the day. I knew I wasn’t going to get this opportunity again so I spoke to her and we had this long chat about feminism and womanism.

“Since then we’ve kept in contact and she’s said that whenever something is happening that she’ll retweet and share it for me, so she also gave me the confidence to think it was a project that could go further and get people’s attention.”

Now technically in its fourth year, submissions for the 2016 anthology, Out of Body Experience, an exploration of the female body in today’s society, have now opened.

Provoked by the need to address ‘something not quite right’ in conversations happening across communities and the media, current events such as the politicising of Nadiya Hussain’s British Bake Off win and comedian Nicole Arbour’s controversial, Dear Fat People video, all inspired this emotive theme.

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She said ‘it went viral for all the wrong reasons’.

“There was just no compassion at all which is why people feel how they do about themselves.

“Although it’s personal, the female body is something that’s quite political.

Source: The Guardian online. Photograph by Linda Nylind.

Source: The Guardian online. Photograph by Linda Nylind.

“I loved Great British Bake Off so when Nadiya won I was happy because she was the best one there, but it was interesting how quickly features about her appeared in the media because ‘she’s actually British’ and wears a hijab.”

The proceeds of anthology sales will this time support Daughters of Eve, a charity founded by prolific female genital mutilation campaigner, Leyla Hussein.

Her 2014 Channel 4 documentary, The Cruel Cut, helped put FGM back on the national agenda and ‘debunked the myths’ that it was a strictly African practice not happening here in the UK.

‘Speechless’ after watching the hour long programme, Abi had already been following the charity on Twitter and was ‘impassioned’ by their work, but felt they deserved far more exposure.

With the anthology priced low at £1 for an e-copy and £4 for a printed version, Abi hopes to raise close to £100 for Daughters of Eve this year, but is unsure of what to expect when proceeds from the first book totalled half of this.

Down the line she would love to be able to transition from self-publishing to using an independent publisher, but more importantly, Abi wants the anthology to have a wider audience and regards it as a springboard for budding writers.

She said: “The main reason why I started the Red Ink Project is for people to have a platform but also for these women to share stories.

“They’ve been so brave and it’d be great if they had a huge audience so people can be touched in the same way I was.”

In between studying for her PHD and working with young people, Abi has recently submitted her own short stories for publication to an anthology and is putting the finishing touches on a novel.

She added: “I’m hoping to send it off to agents within the year, if I just pull my socks up and start editing it properly.”

Submissions for RED INK Vol. 2: Out of Body Experience close on January 1 2016.

For more information visit: www.redinkproject.org

Follow Abigail on Twitter here.

Collaborative marketing project in Birmingham launches new magazine

Earlier this week when I came across Forge Magazine, it was described as ‘interactive’ and something that aimed to highlight creative talent across the Midlands, from varying disciplines – but I had no idea what to expect.

What I later found out is that Forge wasn’t founded by a single individual, despite what I thought initially, but in fact a collective of young marketers who themselves have formed The Icing Agency, under the Mac Birmingham’s ongoing Next Generation Project.

A scheme designed to offer young people aged between 14 and 30 opportunities to learn and break into the creative industries, the Next Generation Creative Agency produced Forge – a slick collection of insightful features, illustration and photography.

Source: Twitter @tombirduk

Source: Twitter @tombirduk

Ashleigh Moore, the magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, though she was keen to point out it was a joint effort between some 10 plus contributors, explained that it was important for Forge to create a publication for emerging creatives and something that would benefit this demographic.

She said: “Sometimes they just need that platform, that little thing that says, ‘Look I’m here’ which will then take them forward.

“We also wanted to give a broad overview of the creative opportunities that are available and the ways you can get into the creative industries so everyone put their heads down and thought about them, what they were passionate about.

“When you look through you’ll see that each person has contributed to this.”

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Ashleigh Moore addressing the intimate audience. Source: Twitter @KristinaOMedia

With the magazine’s layout designed by Fused Media – the publishers responsible for the renowned culture bible, Fused – Art Director, Anya Jung created Forge’s iconic cover illustration and designed the exclusive black and white sleeve which was available at the launch.

She said: “It was a collaborate between me and Louise Byng, who works at the Mac, we really wanted to create something pleasing to look at but not too high brow, we didn’t want to go into contemporary art magazine style at all.

“We were influenced by wrap magazine which is an illustrated magazine and also Oh Comely magazine which is lovely – we like it quite a lot.”

To find out more about what was a mysterious new offering in Birmingham’s print world, I spoke with both Ashleigh and Anya, for a not so ‘random’ podcast. (My phrase on the audio, not theirs.)

For more information about the Next Generation programme click here.

To request a free copy of Forge magazine head to their Facebook page.

Crowdfunding talk on BBC West Midlands’ Chatback show

No selfies with the presenters, I settled with hugs during the break but  the guest room was perfect for a snap.

No selfies with the presenters, I settled with hugs during the break but the guest room was perfect for a snap.

A friend of mine asked on Saturday night if I was weird and practised my interview responses in the mirror like her, to which I replied: “Out loud, yes! You have to!” and I did, hoping that Chatback’s Joe Aldred or Nikki Tapper didn’t open the interview with: “So tell me about the campaign” because that leaves far too much window to trip over my words. Thankfully the veteran presenters have much better style than that and gave me a wonderful introduction which calmed my nerves somewhat.

If you’re unaware, just recently I launched a campaign to raise £1700 remaining course fees for journalism school in Manchester. Utilising my editorial skills I’m approaching contacts old and new for commissions, with all profits going straight to my campaign. Meanwhile I’m crowdfunding so that hopefully with the two combined, I can just focus on my studies.

It was great being able to share what I’m trying to achieve as I don’t tend to often, and while there met another guest on the show, Lenise Harris, founder of the Women’s Reform Organisation. A ‘non profit organisation delivering holistic support to vulnerable women at risk of crime or reoffending upon release from prison’, the charity is in its infancy and born from Lenise’s own experiences of vulnerability as a young female which sparked a desire to help others as she became older. To help grow the West Midlands organisation, Lenise is actively looking for volunteers to support with areas such as mentoring, outreach and marketing so for more on her tune in at 01.07 – 01.11 or go to: www.womensreform.org.

Thank you to everybody who listened live and for any who weren’t able to, you have 28 days starting from now to catch it on BBC iPlayer. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02nhr5f#auto (Skip straight to 45.15 – 55.27 for my segment)

Crowdfunding campaign lands me on BBC WM with the Chatback team in Birmingham

It’s been an incredibly busy few months what with relocating to another city, becoming a journalism student again and being thrust into a 37.5 hour course schedule but given my most recent circumstances, I absolutely have to get back into the habit of oversharing and blogging.

Just recently I launched a campaign on crowdfunding website, Go Fund Me on the back of some advice from a friend and my annoyance at always waiting for money rather than getting it myself, to help raise my £1700 outstanding course fees.

Vicky G Course Fees Campaign

From observation the most successful people I know are those who once they’ve amassed enough experience, draw a line at unpaid work, but I’ve never been entirely confident at monetising my skills.

Nonetheless, the reality is that I’m only ever a month away from being evicted if I fail to raise my rent, like a few weeks ago when the desperate Whats App messages for ‘rent contributions’ went out, but it still didn’t amount to enough. Add to that monthly outgoings of more than £700 on a zero hour contract job and an instalment agreement with my course provider, it was time to drop the pride and get clever. Leverage my creativity and find a way to make this financial challenge mutually beneficial, like a transaction.

The idea was born, as a headline, of course: ‘Manchester journalism student sells her skills in a bid to raise £1700 outstanding course fees’, and with a sneaky day off from my school, a Go Fund Me page was created alongside a compelling narrative of my journey to the present day, ready to send to every acquaintance I’ve ever made.

I can’t explain the weight that was lifted once the campaign became active – I haven’t done any crying since which is a good sign (actually that’s a lie I had a meltdown over the bank holiday weekend and closed my blinds midway through the afternoon) but though progress is slow, it’s now a visible scale on my funding page.

Switching sides to be interviewed, I’ll be chatting to BBC WM’s Nikki Tapper and Joe Aldred tonight on Chatback at 8.30pm about the campaign and detailing more of my backstory that I haven’t mentioned above.

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Please support it! All the relevant links are embedded in this post for you to click on and if you do happen to listen live or on BBC iPlayer afterwards, I’d love to hear from you.

P.S. 1. If I have a good voice for radio let me know as I secretly want to add broadcaster to my repertoire and 2. If you have any advice for how I can push my campaign over twitter where most of my followers are strangers, tips are most welcome.

The Joys of Adult Acting with Class Act Drama

The email invite just appeared in my inbox; a free taster session with Class Act Drama School. Though I had looked into amateur dramatics last summer and again a few weeks ago, it still ended up at the back of my mind, but watching my students perform in drama lessons had reawakened the performing bug. Besides, I was morphing into one of those over-enthusiastic behind-stage mums; hanging in the wings wishing it was me in front of the class acting a part.

(Fast forward to yesterday evening)

Ballerina Michaela DePrince whose story and image I found beautiful. Find your own relevance in this image.

Ballerina Michaela DePrince whose story and image I found beautiful. Find your own relevance in this image.

There I was preparing to walk into the unknown. Wrestling with my willpower, I armed myself in knee-high riding boots with gloves, and hit out against the treacherous weather. I made my way into the main Custard Factory reception; a creative landmark in the city where Marion, the school’s administrator called out to me. Shielding her cropped do under my umbrella, she revealed all about her surprise visitors which made her a tad late. Her grandchildren – aged three and five – who the stalk (her daughter) dropped off at her ankles. Understandably, she came in wet and slightly rattled, but extremely chatty which made me breathe a sigh of relief – I’d be safe with her, I thought.

In the foyer I was met with cautious eyes and faces in hands as they waited for Marion to get herself together. In the meantime, I met everyone’s eyes with a warm smile – I do that well, but I also get schooled on first encounters when one of the other students bounds towards me imparting a firm, self-assured handshake as he asks for my name. His was cool, but will stay anon. Mine was too, he replied, but it’s really not. More common than cool, but note to self: I must try that sometime.

Pleasantries over, we’re hanging around in a circle and get straight into a warm-up. We’re told to resist ‘acting’ with others and have scenarios to enact while we’re striding in all directions about the studio. “You’re hot.” I bend over as if sun stricken and puff out air trying to cool myself down. “You’ve won a million pounds, go spend it.” ‘Oh, this item looks gorgeous,’ I thought, while I fondled the net curtains as though they were the most exquisite mink coat ever, while looking into an imaginary mirror like, ‘My darling, that is your colour!’ I smiled at the store assistant on my way out with my bags. Did I mention we carried those heavy bags in absolute blustering wind and had to act that too? And so it continued when I was in a jungle crouching low and pushing back crowded foliage overhead, and Naomi Gayle on a concrete catwalk.

Acting, while completely oblivious to outsiders came more naturally than I imagined, and from here we were thrown into partners to improvise some of the wackiest stories I’ve come across. Bizarre scenarios like being a baby octopus whose mother has to teach it how to use all eight tentacles; a police officer who has to get an unwilling driver out of the car to open their boot and show me this dead body that happened to stuff itself in there. “Err madam, it will only take a few minutes,” was not convincing enough to get that boot open and quite frankly, I’m glad, as then I’d have to act alarmed when I’m not even sure how to get to that point of expression in real life! (Does my nonchalance even allow it?)

Most of the session was spent completely improvised, even when we did have time to rehearse, which made it one of the most freeing activities I’ve done outside of sports. You’re inclined to over-think to impress the rest but while you’re stuck in your own mind, the drama is live and rolling. As we were told by tutor Claire, it’s about tapping into that childlike state – an analogy I’ve heard several times before. Children do first, think later. This is what makes their play so wonderful. Over-thinking as an actor can be a performance killer but so can it be in everyday life. Linking this to a thought I had earlier that weekend, I know I have an debilitating habit of putting judgement before creativity, and then, still expect to deliver perfection, or something comparable to.

Last night though, I stopped being Vicky for two hours and embodied perhaps 15 or so different characters with their own conflicts and quirks. Having put a desire of mine into fruition, I left the drama studio beaming as I surprised myself with how expressive I can be.

Next pursuit: Pole dancing/ Aerial silks/ Aerial yoga

Do you find that you often put judgement/ criticism before creativity? How do you counteract this unhelpful way of thinking? Share with me.

I Am: A Perfectionist

My desire is to articulate my thoughts accurately,
For them to read eloquently,
Second takes – unnecessary,
The first one was delivered perfectly,
Not only that but there was synchronicity,
From mind to surface,
Nerve endings connected,
Bonds fused,
Except it’s intrinsically imperfect,
A controversy – see I cursed it,
With expectations only leading to disappointment,
In all my falsehood I was captured,
Enslaved by these cruel statements,
And now I don’t even know how to end it.